A humble opinion…. (or: Contrarian Christianity)
Before I begin, please indulge me as I offer an obligatory disclaimer. I am not, nor ever have been a theologian, scholar, or otherwise “religious expert”. My thoughts are shaped simply by my encounters with Scripture, Christ, and (in this case) American history. That in itself appears to be a contentious starting point for some. But, while I agree that care must be taken to avoid a self-influenced interpretation of Scripture, I cannot then make the leap into thinking that spiritual knowledge can only truly be obtained in some sort of collectivist setting – or from some man-made, earthly spiritual authority.
Now that we have that out of the way, I wished to add to a discussion which seems to be taking place within the theological community.
There is a movement afoot to separate Christianity in practice from any kind of national ethos that can be labeled American.
This is, in large part, simply the natural effect of the Pendulum of Civilization swinging away from where we used to find ourselves. It makes perfect sense that this movement can trace it’s origins to the mid-to-late 2000’s. No surprise there, since the “religious right” and “moral majority” movements that sought to connect “Americanism” with Christianity, saw their genesis around 1980. Twenty-five years (which is generally termed a generation) later, the perfectly natural (and in ways, inescapable) cycle of civilization has us moving to an opposite extreme.
I point this out merely to take some self-assured wind out of the sails of the (post-)modernist mindset. Every generation suspects, with righteous surety, that they are the most enlightened, wise, and “right” generation that has ever lived. With ferocious indignation, they lash out at the oh-so bourgeois, boorish, and obviously un-biblical
beliefs their fathers held. This “rebellion” (if you will) is rooted in the contradictory duo of hubris and a genuine desire for spiritual growth.
That being said, the “America Last” faction of Christendom isn’t necessarily all wrong. Part and parcel with the extreme views is the correct observation of and push-back against modern consumerism.
I think where the most strident “Separation of Church and Americanism” supporters get it wrong is assuming that there is something inherent within our national values that is at odds with Christianity. Most often, the cry is “Individualism = Evil”. Well, that’s not what is actually said…but certainly what’s implied. Therefore the American values of self-determination and rugged individualism are suspect and outright anathema to true Christianity.
And if those foundational American values don’t jibe with Christianity, than the whole of Americanistic thought is likewise thrown under the bus.
Now, the problem is that these Christian Cultural Crusaders are looking at the morphed versions of American ideals. And that is fair enough, since that is the reality we live in. What passes for the old American ideals is a perverted mess of the originals.
The reason for that is because American ideals were meant to be inseparable from Christianity.
When taken out of the original Christian context, American ideals become self-glorifying and self-serving.
True American Individualism is a unique amalgam of Christian service, dependence on God alone, and just plain grit.
It’s kind of like what happens when you take Christian morality out of Conservatism. You end up with Libertarianism. Or as people used to call it, Hedonism. (No offense to my Libertarian friends. I am talking about the extreme wing of Libertarianism).
In the same way…when you extract Christianity from Americanism, you end up with greed, selfishness, and neglect of your fellow man.
So, in summary, in my humble opinion, the problem is not with American ideals in and of themselves… but with the withered and corrupted current shadow of those ideals that we now see.